Don’t Just Get Social. Get Psychic!

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What if you could know what a market wants to buy, read, watch, listen to or consume before you invest the time, money and effort in creating it for them?

I’ve written in the past about what I call “dirty market testing” – ways to test an idea for little or no money in a matter of minutes – in Career Renegade. Dirty market testing can give you a quick, intuitive and even data-driven hit on market interest, need and desire. But the data is largely quantitative (numbers), not qualitative (words, emotions and other fuzzy stuff), so it can often leave out a high level of nuance needed to more accurately get deeper context or the true beat of a particular market or community.

Both types of data are important (along with your own intuitive hit). Problem is, traditional interview and focus group driven qualitative data is notoriously inaccurate. The quality of the answers often depend largely on the artfulness of the questioner, and many are without art. And even when good interviews and group experiences are conducted, the average participant often answers, based not on how they truly feel, but on how they believe the questioner wants them to answer or in a way that would allow them to fit most easily into the group. I would never make a significant business or content creation decision based on this type of qualitative data.

But there is another type of qualitative data can be extremely valuable and far more accurate. In large part because it doesn’t happen under the clear observation and bright light of a “researcher.” But also because your subjects generally have no idea they are subjects in your market research, so their ideas, answers and responses tend to be far more truthful. Because they’re simply participating in engaging conversations across the transom of social media over time, often behind the anonymity of the screen, which adds yet another layer of protection from retribution and tends to increase transparency.

I call this Social Market Testing.

Rather than occurring in one planned burst, it happens over time. And it leverages, as its core vehicles, blogs, facebook and twitter as a vehicle for stealth market-insight oriented listening and analysis.

For example, earlier this year, I launched a new business and lifestyle media and education venture called Good Life Project. Though it seemed to come out of nowhere (and there’s still a ton that’ll come to life), I’ve actually been testing interest in elements of the brand for a number of years through my various social media communities.

On my blog, I write about the inersection between lifestyle, business, relationships, mindset and health. I share similar ideas, questions or soundbites on twitter and facebook. And, here’s the important part, this isn’t just about me talking.

Once I seed an idea, I almost always end with a question that provokes a conversation. I do this for two reasons. It often generates wonderful, engaging, valuable conversations for the community and reveals ideas for future posts and conversations. But I sometimes also…

Provoke conversation as a way to gather “soft” market data about potential business ideas.

How do I do this?

On the blog, I gage interest using a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics. On the numbers side, I note:

  • How much traffic a post drives
  • How many times it’s shared across social media
  • Which platforms it gains the most traction on
  • How many comments come in
  • The velocity and duration of comments (how fast they come in and how long the conversation stays strongly active) and
  • The level of cross-commenting (how actively commenters agree or disagree with each other, rather than me).

Then I move to facebook and twitter and do the same anaylsis, tracking shares, retweets, velocity and duration.

After that, I dive into the content, context and sentiment of the social content generated by my original “seed” content. I observe:

  • The general level of agreement of disagreement
  • The identification of aspects or elements of a position I’ve potentially overlooked or (sneaky, sneaky) intentionally not addressed because I want to create the space for certain ideas or arguments to emerge from my communities and track whether my community come up with the ideas, pain points or areas of potential delight without me prompting them
  • The strength of the language used (“you’ve got to be insane to believe…” versus “Gee, I’m not sure I totally agree with that…”)
  • Clarification of my original ideas or the introduction of totally new ideas
  • Which soundbites people pull and highlight on facebook and twitter (I often plant certain sentences or quotes that I think represented the most compelling ideas to see if people agree with my emphasis by independently pulling them out and sharing them as their main pull quotes or tweets across social media.

And I wouldn’t just do this once. In fact, I’m doing it all the time across every platform.

If I have an idea for a business, product or solution and I think I’ve identified 5 potential pain points, there’s a pretty good chance that, over a period of weeks or months, I am going to write about each of the 5 and then do the above analysis to help figure out which, if any, are the real major trigger points or potentially help identify ones I may have missed entirely.

And, it gets even better, the qualitative date you get from this process essentially writes your marketing for you. I identifies the conversations already going on in peoples’ heads, the language they’re using to communicate it and how much each trigger, pain, delight or other factor really matters. That allows you to craft messaging that used the precise language your market is already using, which ratchets up rapport, likeability and influence (use only for good, people, never for evil).

Point of all of this is, social media, approached in a more nuanced, deliberate way, can be a vehicle to not only express yourself, cultivate your craft and build a robust platform, it can also be an astonishingly powerful source of both quantitative and qualitative market research and give you far more confidence that you’ve got it right before investing real time, energy and money in a larger venture.

But, you need to be willing to go just a bit further.

So, what do YOU think about this?

Have you ever done it before? If so, how has it worked for you?

If not, how might you leverage this approach to Social Market Research in the future?

And, one last question…

Do you find this at all a little bit creepy, or does it make total sense and feel good to you? Because, right now, large companies are mining your social data on a level that makes this look like kids’ play.

Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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11 responses

11 responses to “Don’t Just Get Social. Get Psychic!”

  1. Great post Jonathan. It speaks to the value of building an audience which can act as a testing ground to test our hypotheses. I once heard a podcast that referred to this idea as your “minimum viable audience” which is a pretty cool way to frame the whole notion of leveraging an audience to test ideas, products, etc.

  2. Jonathan, what you’re describing sounds kind of like ethnographic research — another qualitative modality that does a much better job of learning about how people actually behave in real-life conditions (versus what they say they would do).

    Ethnography is a methodology that comes from the field of cultural anthropology (what I do!). The use of ethnography for market research has been around for a while now, and I’ve worked on a few projects in this realm for a place called Context Based Research. You’re just doing a more digital version of it.

    At any rate, it makes total sense to me. I don’t find it more creepy than anything else going on out in the Internet world… If we post our thoughts on blogs, Facebook, etc, we should be aware we are doing it in a public forum and that it’s fair game what others do with it.

  3. Thanks for the great post. How do you get a varied demographic to respond to your questions? Or are you prescreening your audience to a specific market segment? And if so how do you restrict your reserch to your desired demographic?

  4. Nancy Fox says:

    Jonathan, timely and really smart post. Did you notice how many people were sending out email surveys of their market this year? I know some got lots of responses and built campaigns around that info. I also know there were so many who had time (or interest) to fill them out?
    Much wiser is to do what you’re suggesting. It takes more strategy, more consistency and finesse, but ultimately more valuable I suspect.
    One more thought to add in is observing not only the content of what you read and hear in “sneaky marketing” but also the exact language people are using to repeat it back in marketing copy.
    I’ve been using a version of this technique in all of my Linked In groups and have found some amazing terminology I wouldn’t have thought of.

  5. Jonathan,

    sounds like you’re describing a way of active “listening” that builds relationships. The major deficiency of social media is that it removes our most innate cues of social interaction, body language and tone of voice. When we can’t look someone in the eye, or hear their voice, we don’t know if they “heard” us. They don’t know if we’ve understood.

    You’re conducting a digital equivalent of those cues, which takes a lot longer, but probably accounts for the warmth of your outreach. You are engaged in active “listening” with the tools you have available and your community “feels” it and responds. It’s only creepy if you only goal is to game people with your knowledge.

    There’s not a greater gift than making people feel “heard”, and responding to what they are actually saying.

  6. I fully agree Jonathan and love the way your mind works. I’ve often found when I’ve hit publish on a post or idea that the shares and comments alike tell me whether I’ve hit a chord or resonated with my community.

    Some times it flies, other times it’s met with less than a whisper in which case I know I’m off the mark. I was particularly surprised (and pleasantly so) at the recent reaction to my $100 Change initiative http://bit.ly/100change

    It sparked the most feedback, buzz and involvement over anything I’ve ever done before.
    That was a great feeling, 2 years of being online is finally paying off 🙂

    It also has a lot to do with the amount of heart thats gone into this and the place it’s come from. And that’s a key point – people can tell whether you’re being disingenuous or truthful, and spammy vs sincere and that makes all the difference with regards to the level of response you’ll receive too.

    Natalie

  7. Hi Jonathan,

    Re “large companies are mining your social data on a level that makes this look like kids’ play.”

    I guess they are but those companies are only looking at the numbers where you’re looking at what really makes people tick.

    If a post if popular I know to write about that topic more.

    Comments are my favourite indicator although sometimes they’re not a good one as you get the same crowd commenting repeatedly where others never chip in plus you get the super over-excited people who aren’t really the norm… lol since I’m commenting here;) But I’m not the norm – I’m a super fan:)

    The bad part is this works for those with a big audience but it won’t work for new bloggers/businesses or those with a smaller following…

    You’re doing it right by not just crunching numbers, by taking time to dig and delve and looking at the human element.

    It’s nice to know you spend time on these things too.

  8. Carmelo says:

    As a brand new blogger it’s quite interesting to see how others are evaluating their actions and audiences. It’s so different from face to face “real life” business. And blogging, for those wanting to make a living at it, is a business to be sure.

    Behind it all, we’re people. People with needs and wants and opinions and, well, the ability to spend money where we want to spend money. And in the business world, isn’t that the truest test of a great idea?

    Like one of the commentors said, one needs to have an audience before one can sell, survey, or evaluate!

    Thanks for your insights, Jonathan.

  9. This makes sense to me and seems like a win-win for you and your people. I’m curious how long it takes for you to do these kinds of analyses. Can you get the info you need on a given post or product in a matter of minutes? I’m newly learning how to “listen” like you’ve described here, and wonder, in my limited work time, how I can do it and get much of anything else done! 🙂

    And a different question: How does one do what you’ve described here in a way that mindfully humanizes one’s audience? It seems like these analyses happen in the parts of our brains that are a lot about numbers and calculated strategy, and that some intentionality may be necessary to keep the heart/soul-centers of ourselves active in the decision-making that follows. You seem like you try to do this, and I’d love to hear what strategy, if any, you use for THAT part of the process.

  10. Pamela Slim says:

    That sounds *almost* like my process, minus all the steps except:

    “I think this sounds fun to do. I think I will do it.”

    LOVE your brain. Can I transplant it in mine?

    xox,

    -P

  11. Sara Mazenko says:

    Jonathan, love this idea and the fact that this article could be the ‘seed’ for SMT you’re doing. Tricky tricky.

    I haven’t employed SMT to the degree you talk about yet, but will and consider it part of a conscientious marketing plan.

    Insightful as always!

    Thanks!
    Sara